“RESIST” became the public outcry after the 2016 election, when the public faced the real possibility that rights might be rolled back or taken away from African Americans, non-European immigrants, and other people of color; women; people who identify as LGBTQ; religious minorities; and other vulnerable populations. Resistance, however, is not new. The theme of resistance runs through every major movement in the Philadelphia region’s history, with every challenge to the status quo being met with a counter-push.
In its discovery and questions phase since August 2018, Chronicling Resistance has been an inquiry asking, “What are the large and small acts of resistance that have brought us to today, and how can more people know about them now and in the future?” Chronicling Resistance is a project about local libraries, archives, the people who use them, and the people who don’t. It’s a project about the history libraries and archives hold onto, the history we can find there easily, and the history that’s harder to trace. It’s about where we see ourselves in history and where we don’t. And it’s a project about the history we in Philadelphia create ourselves, every day, in small and large acts of resistance.
One important lesson we’ve learned: The major barrier to connecting communities to archives is that a lot of people don’t know what materials are available and that they are available to anyone. To help bridge this gap, we’re developing a resistance-themed database featuring a sliver of the resistance-related documents in PACSCL collections. The database will have search terms that make the documents easier to find digitally and in real life. Want to know when the site goes live? Sign up for our newsletter! And you can read all about what else we’ve learned and how we’ve learned it by visiting our blog.
Chronicling Resistance (formerly known as Chronicling Resistance, Enabling Resistance) is managed by the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL). Support for the research and development of this project has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.
The Chronicling Resistance Team
Mariam Williams, Project Director
Zoe Jeka, Project Assistant, September 2018-May 2019
Representatives from PACSCL’s member institutions are undertaking this project alongside the project director and assistant. They bring decades of experience as librarians and archivists and are actively engaged in work that (re)considers archives and libraries as tools of resistance.
- Sarah Horowitz, Steering Committee Chair, Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts and Head of Quaker & Special Collections at Haverford College
- Lois Fischer Black, Curator of Special Collections, Lehigh University Linderman Library
- Laura Blanchard, PACSCL
- Peter Conn, Executive Director, The Philadelphia Athenaeum
- Rachel D’Agostino, Curator of Printed Books, Library Company of Philadelphia
- Caitlin Goodman, Curator, Rare Books Department, Free Library of Philadelphia
- Tim Murray, Head of Special Collections, University of Delaware Libraries
- Laurie Allen, University of Pennsylvania Library / Monument Lab
- Rob Blackson, Temple Contemporary
- Paul Farber, University of Pennsylvania / Monument Lab
- Valerie Gay, Art Sanctuary
- Melissa Hamilton, CultureWorks Philadelphia
- Ivan Henderson, African American Museum in Philadlephia
- Katherine Kane, Harriet Beecher Stowe House (emerita)
- Sean Kelley, Eastern State Penitentiary
- Nathaniel Popkin, Hidden City / History Making Productions
- Matt Rader, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
- Hazami Sayed, Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture
- Jessica Shupik, Public school teacher
- Rebecca Traister, Journalist and author
- Denise Valentine, Roots & Wings Storytelling
- Morris Vogel, Tenement Museum
Missed our newsletters this year? Catch up on what’s been happening with the Chronicling Resistance project in 2019 here:
News Release, June 18, 2018:
PACSCL receives grant to showcase histories of resistance and preserve materials reflecting 21st century issues
The Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a Discovery Grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage for its project, “Chronicling Resistance, Enabling Resistance: Libraries and Archives Expose Historical Documents and Encourage Communities to Make Their Stories Heard.”
In announcing the award, Ronald Brashear, Arnold Thackray Director of the Othmer Library at the Science History Institute and PACSCL board chair, observed, “Resistance is embedded in our human DNA. Both the city of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania colony were founded as an act of resistance to England’s religious intolerance. At the same time, the colonists themselves were the subject of resistance by indigenous peoples. And you see it reflected in the development of science and medicine where new theories face resistance from established theories.” The theme of resistance runs through every major movement in more than three centuries of the area’s history, Brashear noted, with every challenge to the status quo being met with a counter-push. Milestones in Philadelphia- area resistance are as diverse and compelling as the 1688 petition for the abolition of slavery; the violent labor protests of the Molly Maguires and the children’s march of Mother Jones; a mid-20th-century protest against the proposed Tocks Island Dam; and the 2011 Occupy Philadelphia movement. But while the historical and cultural materials preserved in libraries may tell these stories, they often are either not known or not available to everyone — and many citizens may not see themselves in the narratives or recognize the relevance to their own lives.
In an effort to bring these important stories into focus for a broad public, PACSCL is enlisting a group of fifteen “thinking partner” consultants — drawn from other cultural and community organizations, activists, teachers/students, and journalists — to think about current collections, resistance narratives, and ways to build partnerships, strengthen collections, and engage new audiences. Their work will involve small group discussions on the one hand and larger, community-based “listening sessions” on the other, challenging PACSCL members to think about these issues and challenging PACSCL to build a set of outward-facing programs — such as exhibitions, performances or works of art inspired by the collections, and online resources — around the broad theme of resistance and what it means to us both historically and in the present.
“There are two important things we want to accomplish,” explained Sarah Horowitz, leader of the advisory board for the project and Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts and Head of Quaker & Special Collections at Haverford College. “We want to make sure the stories in our collections are better known and in a way that a broad cross-section of our citizens can relate to. In other words, we want to get those stories out of our reading rooms and into the community.” But just as important, Horowitz continued, are the stories that aren’t yet in PACSCL collections or that may not even have happened yet. “We need to make sure that contemporary stories of resistance are collected and preserved, either by our libraries and archives or by other institutions or community archives.”
In this process, PACSCL will seek to reach individuals and groups who are 1) records creators; 2) records keepers such as neighborhood organizations, churches, and communities of activism, in addition to libraries and archives; and 3) those who interpret and share records, such as educators, journalists, and curators. PACSCL will welcome broad participation in listening events and other gatherings. “If we are going to involve everyone, we need to get out of our buildings and into the neighborhoods,” Horowitz noted.
This project will allow PACSCL to move beyond allowing people to use its reading rooms, instead proactively bringing collections to people, and expanding our ideas of “collecting” based on feedback and community needs. Future collecting might involve helping an activist group to retain and preserve their records in a way that makes sense to them, or placing materials on “digital deposit” with libraries and archives while the community retains the originals. It anticipates a re-visioning of how history is documented and who can and should be documenting, ultimately leading to a version of the historical record which broadly reflects the people and issues of 21st-century Philadelphia.
“Content created with community input is likely to be meaningful to people in that it will speak to their experiences and interests,” commented Brashear. Having such communities participate in content-creation will provide a multiplicity of voices as part of the project. It will also take some small steps towards corrective action in a history of implicit/explicit exclusionary practices on the part of collecting institutions and collectors and provide insight into the kinds of records deemed important by collecting powers, as well as absences in the record.
Support for the research and development of “Chronicling Resistance, Enabling Resistance” is provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. PACSCL is very grateful for this support, which will help PACSCL to showcase the histories of resistance in its collection while partnering with new organizations and challenging its own notions of what should be collected.